Allegations With Little Facts: New Election Commission Chief OP Rawat's Dig At AAP

In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat spoke about allegations levelled at the election body, the possibility of simultaneous elections and the need to keep criminals out of electoral politics.

Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat told NDTV that convicted politicians should be kept out of elections

NEW DELHI: OP Rawat, who took over as the Chief Election Commissioner today told NDTV, that the poll body had always been "neutral and unbiased", an assertion that comes against the backdrop of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party dragging the poll panel into a controversy after its "opinion" led to the disqualification of 20 AAP lawmakers.

Mr Rawat brushed aside the allegations that had been levelled against the poll panel.

"The thing is that not every stakeholder, player in the arena has access to 360 degree comprehensive information. Based on their incomplete information, they may be making a perception where they may be developing a feeling that something partial has been done," Mr Rawat said.

In an interview on wide-ranging issues, Mr Rawat also spoke about the possibility of simultaneous elections, the need to keep criminals out of electoral politics and the controversial election in Chennai's RK Nagar that saw large-scale influence of money power.

Mr Rawat said the Election Commission takes "corrective measures immediately" whenever facts are brought to its attention. No action was taken on the AAP complaints as "no action is obviously required".

Last week, the Election Commission wrapped up a complaint that 20 AAP lawmakers had violated the Office of Profit provision by accepting the position of parliamentary secretary in the Delhi government back in 2015 and asked President Ram Nath Kovind to disqualify the lawmakers.

The AAP said the order was passed without hearing the 20 lawmakers.

"The Election Commission is working like a Khap Panchayat and giving a verdict without hearing (the other side)," AAP's Raghav Chadha said at a Press conference on Tuesday, keeping up the pressure on the poll panel.

In its opinion sent to the President, the commission says when the lawmakers were asked to come up with their side, they had repeated the points made earlier.

"We wrote, 'yes, we want to place our side', both in written and oral. The EC didn't respond. How can you not give us a hearing?" Mr Chadha said, accusing the election panel of "lying".

Mr Rawat had initially recused himself from hearing the AAP case last year after statements from AAP leaders questioning his  independence because he was seen to be close to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

But he again started dealing with the case from September last year when, according to the Election Commission's opinion, AAP leaders claimed that an opinion delivered by only two - and not the full quorum of three election commissioners - would not be valid.

AAP has objected to Mr Rawat's decision to be part of the case once he had recused himself from the case.  "It was first time in the history of India that a judge who had recused himself from a case sneaked back to the case through back door," he said.

On the possibility of simultaneous elections in 2019, Mr Rawat said this would be possible only after the legal framework was ready. It would need amendments to the Constitution, Representation of the People Act and other laws. "Once that framework is ready, the logistical issues can be addressed very quickly," he said.

Mr Rawat also reiterated the poll panel's push for keeping convicted criminals out of electoral politics. "We agree with the public interest petition filed in the Supreme Court," he said. The existing law only bars convicts from contesting elections for six years after serving the sentence.